Folk Singer Will Channel Labor Martyr Joe Hill in Cedar Rapids

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Grammy-nominated folk singer John McCutcheon will perform in the one-man musical “Joe Hill’s Last Will” at the CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids on November 21.

The stage show celebrates the legacy of Swedish-born songwriter and union activist Joe Hill, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.  Historian Philip S. Foner referred to him as “The I.W.W.’s most accomplished, most famous and most prolific songwriter” and was heralded as a “genius for satire” by the authors of Solidarity Forever, an oral history of the I.W.W.

November 19 marked the 100-year anniversary of Hill’s execution by the state of Utah. Written by songwriter and activist Si Kahn, the play is set in a Salt Lake City jail cell during Hill’s final hours after being convicted of a crime many people say he did not commit. As a result of the verdict, he was killed by a firing squad. Before he died, it was reported that his final words were “Don’t mourn, organize!”

Many of Hill’s supporters believe Hill was framed-up on criminal charges due to his union activities, which were controversial at that time. At the height of the First Red Scare (1919-1920), many I.W.W. members were jailed, beaten or killed by authorities and vigilantes. Hill, however, has become a kind of folk hero in the labor movement.

Before he died, he contributed several songs to his union’s “Little Red Song Book,” including “The Preacher and the Slave,” “The Tramp” and “We Will Sing One Song.” The play’s title comes from Hill’s song of the same name.

As the show’s star, McCutcheon has 37 recordings to his credit and has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards. He first performed the role for a 2011 stage production in Sebastopol, California. To commemorate the centenary of Hill’s death, McCutcheon has released an album of the songs that helped make Hill a legend after his death.

“Joe Hill’s Last Will” will be presented at the landmark CSPS Hall in downtown Cedar Rapids by the non-profit Legion Arts, which is described as being “dedicated to the creation, presentation, understanding and impact of contemporary art.” The show starts at 8pm.

For more information, visit http://legionarts.org/